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Fleet of tall ships sailing into Buffalo Harbor for July 4

Fleet of tall ships sailing into Buffalo Harbor for July 4

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The U.S. Brig Niagara steers into the Erie Basin Marina on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

They're tall, majestic and offer a glimpse of maritime history. And there hasn't been this many here at one time in more than a century.

A fleet of 12 tall ships from the United States, Canada, Spain and the South Pacific will come for a four-day Independence Day weekend festival on the Buffalo waterfront.

"We are bringing in the largest fleet of large sailing vessels that have graced the port of Buffalo since the age of sail, maybe 150 years ago," said Michael Vogel, founding president of the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, the major organizer of the event.

If all goes well this summer, Buffalo could host the tall ships again in 2025, the bicentennial of the opening of the Erie Canal, Vogel said.

In what promises to be a spectacle, the ships will parade the length of the Outer Harbor on July Fourth.

The "Basil Port of Call: Buffalo" will be a free, four-day festival featuring canal-era music, performances and activities, as well as a chance to see nine ships up close. There will be a cost to board and explore these mammoth vessels of yesteryear and to sail on three of the ships.

"It sounds exciting," said Peter Schiffmacher, after listening to Vogel on Tuesday at the Central Library. "They have so many ships from not only across the U.S., but internationally, involved.

"I just think it's going to have a big tie-in to our waterfront and our heritage, which will make people more aware of our history and how important the canal was," he said.

The Buffalo event, expected to draw 125,000 people, could pump $6 million to $8 million into the local economy, Vogel said.

That resonates with Bob McLaughlin of Kenmore.

"I think it will be great for our economy," McLaughlin said. "I have seen the tall ships in New York, and I think it will draw a lot of people to Buffalo, and bring more attention to the area."

Four, three-masted tall ships will lead the way:

  • The Barque Picton Castle, a 179-foot steel ship from the Cook Islands in the South Pacific, spreads 12,450 square feet of sail.
  • The Denis Sullivan, a 137-feet-tall ship from Milwaukee, is the world's only replica of a Great Lakes schooner.
  • The Empire Sandy, from Toronto, is Canada's largest schooner at 203 feet and is the tallest tall ship coming to Buffalo.
  • The Nao Santa Maria, from Punta Umbria, Spain, is a new replica of what was the flagship of Christopher Columbus' exploration fleet.

Among the eight two-masted tall ships are:

  • The U.S. Brig Niagara, which ports in Erie, Pa., replicates Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's flagship in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.
  • Bluenose II is a Canadian national symbol, depicted on stamps and the country's 10-cent coin.
  • The HMCS Oriole, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is the oldest commissioned vessel in the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • The Pride of Baltimore is a reconstruction of the 157-foot Baltimore Clipper from the War of 1812 era.
  • The Appledore IV, which operates out of Bay City, Mich., is a steel-hulled 85-foot gaff schooner.
  • The Appledore V, a sister boat, is a steel-hulled 65-foot gaff schooner.
  • The STV St. Lawrence, based in Kingston, Ont., is a 72-foot, two-masted brigantine that will be operated by a crew of teenagers.
  • The Spirit of Buffalo is a 73-foot steel topsail schooner and is Buffalo's flagship.

All of the ships will berth at Canalside, along the Erie Street docks between the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park and Erie Basin Marina, and down by the marina's observation tower.

Tickets are $20 daily, $10 for children, which will allow the ticket holder to board as many ships as time and long lines allow. A four-day pass for $125 includes VIP parking and entrance to a hospitality area.

They are available at participating Wegmans locations and online at

Olga Karman of Buffalo, who was also at Vogel's library talk, said she can't wait to see the ships this summer. She saw them years ago in New London, Conn.

"I'm from Cuba, and I used to sail in Havana all the time," Karman said. "The tall ships coming to Buffalo is like a new wind is coming into our city. It is so exciting, and it dovetails beautifully with our history. We are not a seafaring but a 'lakefaring' city. Bravo!"

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